How long does it take for a dog to digest food? Believe it or not, this is a common question among new and seasoned dog owners alike. The answers may actually surprise you as well. There are actually quite a few factors to take into consideration when estimating an animals rate of digestion. It’s not all about size. Diet and meal frequency play a big part as well.
If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes a dog to digest than look no further. In the next few minutes we are going to go on a short journey through a dog’s digestive system and explain some of the common factors associated with digestion as well as how you can help your pet digest better. Lets get into it!
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How Does A Dog’s Digestive System Work
Surprisingly, it’s not all that much different from human digestion in that we have the same basic parts all working together to do the same job. In a very basic sense, a dogs digestive system is a long energy transfer tube starting at their mouths and ending with the anus. Along this path, nutrients are extracted by various portions of this system for use by your pet. All of the unused matter is then discarded when your dog poops.
Dog Digestion Broken Down
In this section, I’m going to go a bit deeper into each actual area of a dog’s digestive system and what they do.
Dog Digestion: Mouth
The first part of a dog’s digestive system is the mouth of course. When your dog eats, food passes into the mouth where it is broken down by enzymes in your dog’s saliva. The teeth also help to tear and grind the food down into more and more manageable sizes creating more surface area for the saliva to penetrate and begin its work.
After the food is chewed, it is then swallowed and travels down the dog’s throat to their stomach.
Dog Digestion: Stomach
The stomach is where the food is further broken down into smaller elements. These food particles are met in the stomach by a dog’s stomach acid. This acid further digests the food and begins getting the food particles ready for the larger part of the nutrient extraction phase. Some nutrients are absorbed in the stomach but not many.
Dog Digestion: Intestines
The food is now ready to move into the small intestine from the stomach. Here the remaining food particles will be stripped of nutritional content which your dog will use to maintain their own body. Help will be given from the liver and gal bladder. These organs will release different enzymes and bile to help the food further break down and go through extraction. Once the food is largely devoid of nutrients, it is pushed into the large intestine.
A common misconception is that the large intestine does a lot of nutrient absorption. While there is some, the large intestine is mostly responsible for absorbing any water left in the food for your dog’s body to use. This is the same in humans as well. Once the food is cleared of water, the large intestine then turns the remaining undigested contents into stool.
Dog Digestion: Rectum
At this point in digestion, the remaining waste is now stored in the dog’s rectum. When enough has accumulated, the dog will have the urge to go. This waste will then be excreted when the dog poops. Thus our journey through the digestive system of a dog is complete. But how long does it take for a dog to digest food?
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Digest Food Explained
There are several different factors here as stated above. The general consensus is somewhere between 4-8 hours depending on the dog. This does not necessarily mean that a small dog has worse digestion than a larger one or visa versa. Lets talk about some of the other factors involved with digestion time and how that might effect your dog’s digestion specifically.
I have a couple of questions for you:
- What kind of diet do you feed your dog? Is it a raw food diet? Is it dry brown dog kibble? Do you mix in wet food? Is your dog getting enough water?
- Does your dog have any health conditions? Are they on any medications? Do they have any chronic illnesses like diabetes?
- How old is your dog? Are they in good shape?
All of these factors can come into play when we talk about how long it takes for a dog to digest food. I’m gonna break this down by section and hopefully provide some insight on how specifically these areas affect dog digestion.
Dog Digestion In Regards To Diet
There are 2 main parts to this. What are you feeding your dog and how often? In terms of feeding your dog, various types of diets will affect your pup differently. A complete raw diet shows a quicker digesting time for a dog as opposed to its highly processed counterparts. One thing that we do know is, the more processed the food, the less of it your dog can digest and the more waste they tend to produce. This will also increase digestion time and may even cause constipation in some dogs.
What about frequency of meals? In general, I know many pet owners feed their dog 2-3 times a day with some bones and treats thrown in. Depending on how far these meals are spaced out will give you a good idea of your dog’s digestion time. For example, if you feed your dog at 8 am and they have to poop by 1 pm, odds are the digestion takes between 4-5 hours. Frequency is also key when we talk about dog health.
Using the example from above. If it takes your dog 4-5 hours to digest but you are feeding your dog food every 3 hours or so (including snacks), your dog’s digestive system never gets a chance to rest and recover. I recommend feeding your dog within an 8-10 hour window each day so they have a chance to rest and repair their digestive system every night. This will do a lot for your dog’s overall health in general as they age.
Dog Digestion In Regards To Health
Diabetes is one of the number one conditions that comes to mind. Yes your dog can get diabetes in a very similar way to how we get it. Eating junk food. If your dog has a diet that is full of processed food laden with sugar and chemicals, this will eventually cause some health problems. Chronic illnesses like diabetes can slow down a dog’s digestion and make it harder for them to absorb food in general. This can lead to malnutrition which can cause other health conditions. Its a vicious cycle! I strongly recommend finding a high quality food source for your pet that includes whole foods and excludes things like sugar and wheat. Dogs never evolved to eat these things and they don’t process them well.
Exercise is another vital part of a dog’s health and must be attended too. Lazy dogs tend to have problems with digestion as well as overall health when they age. The more active you can keep your dog on a daily basis, the better. If you have a fenced in area like a backyard where you can let your dog roam a few hours of the day then great. If you are like I am and live in a city or don’t have access to a huge area to let your dog run, don’t worry. A few 10-15 minute walks a day combined with some active play time can work wonders for a dog’s overall health and mood as well.
Dog Digestion: Age
I saved the age for last because it can strongly tie in with the two other categories listed above. As a dog ages, it will naturally have occasional digestion issues. This may result in things like constipation or loose stools. The good news is, proper diet and exercise have been shown to greatly increase a dog’s quality of life and put them on the higher end of their breed’s lifespan as well. We all want our pups around forever but in the absence of that, I’ll take healthy and happy years over sick ones.
If your dog does begin to have some digestive issues when they get older, try speaking with your vet and see if they can give you any specific insight into how to treat your dog based on their medical history.
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Digest Medicine?
This is another frequent question I see asked by many a dog owner. Once again this will largely depend on the medicine and what form it was in when administered. Some medications are given in time release capsules that are designed to break down in a specific amount of time to keep the drug evenly distributed. Other medications are given in liquid form which tend to be absorbed by the dog much faster. Your vet can tell you what the specifics are on each medication. Some medications need to be taken when your dog’s stomach is empty. Others require food or a treat.
Ever try giving a dog medication without a bit of cheese or something to get them to swallow it??? YUCK 🤣
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Digest Water?
This is a bit different as dogs don’t really digest water. Water is reabsorbed by their intestines and than the excess is excreted through urine. This process can vary in the amount of time it takes due to the overall hydration level of the animal. Generally, we are talking anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
A good way to track this would be to let your dog out for some exercise and play in the yard or on a walk. During this walk your dog should naturally do their business so their bladders will be empty coming back inside. Place a fresh bowl of water out for your dog and keep an eye on how much they drink. Let your dog back out in 15 minute increments until you see them really go again. I say really go because all dogs might squat to let out a trickle for marking purposes. You want to track the next actual urination event. I’ve done this with my own dog and find the average is around 45 min or so.
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Poop After Eating?
This topic can get a bit more complex. I wrote a whole article on it because the question was largely unanswered for a lot of people. You can check that article out here if you want but i’ll briefly discuss it now.
There are many different factors that come into play when discussing dog poop. Many of them like diet, exercise and overall health are major players at keeping a dog regular as well. Generally a dog will have to poop 3-4 hours after their last feeding. Some may take a bit longer while others take a bit less but this is a pretty good medium. This can also depend on how much your dog ate and the frequency of meals and snacks your dog already had that day.
I usually get this question from dog owners who want to know how long it would be ok to leave their dog home alone without a potty break. I usually tell them that 4 hours should be the max. Any longer than that and you should try to make plans to get your dog walked.
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Digest Food Conclusion
We have covered a lot of information over the last few minutes and I want to thank you for hanging in there with me. I know this isn’t the most interesting subject to discuss but it is helpful to know in the long run. To recap, A dog will take between 4-8 hours to digest food with variations based on type,size,health,diet and age. The 4-8 hour range is still a good rule of thumb.
If you are tying to keep your dog on an empty stomach for surgery or other procedure, I would suggest not feeding them anything but a little water to drink for 12-15 hours before the time of their appointment. This isn’t a strict science but the stomach should be completely empty by then and not cause any complications. As always, follow up with your vet if you have any specific questions or concerns. They will have more insight into your specific animal and may advise you differently because of it.